Stephanie Szerlip is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her debut short The Follower reimagines a 1966 Joyce Carol Oates story within a contemporary framework, conveying the eternal resonance of its themes, such as the gap between appearance and reality, and the dangers surrounding the youthful unawareness of sexual self-discovery. Interweaving narrative and the somatic, The Follower's classic pop culture evocations mixed in with an empty and malleable place, creates the ideal mood for testing suspense.
Szerlip “What resonated with me in the original Joyce Carol Oates story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was the specific feeling of being a woman in certain interactions where the power dynamic is inherently imbalanced. To me it was a story that keeps on living, because there’s always more to say about it, so I brought this scenario into the context of today - imagining the unintended consequences that young women might face in expressing their sexuality in the public realm.”
Excerpts below are taken from No Budge Interview
As a classic stranger-danger story, the structure has a fairytale-like simplicity which seemed like a good way to address larger issues I wanted to talk about without being confined to the details of a complicated plotline. I was thinking about the illusions and false values that arise from the devotion to pop culture, music, movies and especially the internet and how teenagers are at the heart of the agony of our contemporary world. I brought that updated aspect to her story and also liked the idea of a modern serial killer being more of an emotional terrorist.
On a whim, I reached out to Joyce about permission to do an adaptation and got an email back 15 minutes later. So then I felt like I had to follow through.
Finding a good rhythm in the dialogue was difficult. Because the physical threat isn’t at the heart of what’s going on, Jack’s character ultimately uses the power of his words to get her to give up everything. So the dynamic had to be subtly shifting the balance of power between the two characters at different times. There’s also a duality in both characters and what they represent. He’s the incarnation of her dreams and desires, but he’s also a nightmare. She’s wavering at the boundary between childhood and adulthood, projecting a rebelliousness and maturity that’s contrary to the reality of her innocence. To be believable, neither one could be too dominant. If he was too aggressive, she might not engage and if she was too strong then his words might not have an impact.
Everything else was made pretty easy by working with some close friends and collaborators who are all artists in their own right and each brought something special beyond what I could’ve imagined.